Thursday, September 15, 2005

Terrible Apathy

"The opposite of love is not hate; it is apathy."

I have no idea who originally said the above, but it struck me when I first heard it over 15 years ago, and it rings true today.

Apathy, terrible apathy. The emotion that Jesus never seems to have felt is one I feel too often. I've been ashamed even to write about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, because I have felt little other than apathy. And that is not a Christian response.

Maybe it was the fact that people continued to live in an area below sea level, where no private insurer would provide flood insurance. Maybe it was people who could wade through the muck to loot abandoned buildings but didn't proceed to wade their way out of the city. Maybe it was the immediate whining and finger-pointing, from local governments, advocacy groups and displaced citizens. Maybe it was knowing always in the back of my mind that the majority of these people were going to be just fine -- the government was going to step in a provide generously, no matter how much money private relief offered. Maybe knowing that either way my family was going to be paying for the multiple human follies that escalated this natural disaster to such an extreme level -- in taxes, higher fuel prices, raised insurance premiums -- that made me reluctant to step forward and answer the call to avail myself of the opportunity to serve my fellow man. It was probably a combination of all these things, but also this: there is only so much heartache and horror the human spirit can withstand before the soul callouses and terrible apathy comes to dwell in a tender heart.

The first casualty of the War Against Terror, that first serviceman to be killed in Afghanistan, he was mourned by the country. He was local to Washington, and a public funeral was held up here, drawing scores people touched by someone who would offer his life for others. Banks set up funds in his name to help his family. He was talked about on news shows and radio shows and had a write-up of his life in the local paper -- and probably nationally too. Now, the news casually reports such-and-such number of lost troops per attack. We rarely even hear their names anymore. The bodybags have become too numerous for us to count -- so we close our eyes to them. The loss of a serviceman or servicewoman has retreated back to a private loss for their family or, at most, community. The nation no longer mourns -- it sets its jaw and proceeds on.

If terror ever becomes as common on our soil as it has become in Israel, we will learn to harden ourselves to it as they have. It is a survival tactic -- you cannot live your life if every day is 9/11. And as we continue forward in this insane age, as we fix our eyes on the horizon, we forget sometimes that Jesus weeps over Jerusalem still. He weeps and feels everything that we cannot, for His infinite nature contains all of the pain of the world, as well as all the true joy.

So, in the United States, this nation blessed beyond all reason with material wealth and a generous spirit -- it is difficult to conceive of real human need in this rich land. The vast majority of those people, victims of circumstance and poor planning, will be okay -- there is nothing holding them back but a misplaced sense of despair. I tend to reserve my compassion for cases of oppression wherein the sufferers really haven't any control of their destinies. Cases like political oppression, economic oppression, and, most of all, the depravity of abortion are the ones that tie my soul into knots -- not a bunch of people who will, essentially, after a modicum of discomfort, be as before -- or maybe even, refined by hardship, better off than before.

But, still, as a Christian, I cannot rest on my apathy. Christ was not apathetic to my plight, brought on by my all-too-human condition of sin, so I cannot be apathetic to my fellow man. I have been at work for the past few weeks trying to overcome this burden of nothingness. To whom am I a neighbor? Despite the behavior of too many folks in New Orleans (in particular) that infuriates me -- they are my neighbors. I will be a good neighbor, dammit. Lord, help me be a good neighbor and show Your love, as You will.

My wonderful husband gave to the fund that our church was collecting to send to Calvary Chapels in Louisiana. Today, I gave a little to Caring To Love Ministries, to help support crisis pregnancy centers in that area that are needed now more than ever. Those most at risk now in Louisiana are those who are most at risk even outside a state of emergency -- the unborn. Crisis pregnancy compounds in desperation when the crisis is external as well as internal. This Sunday, we will donate more to our church's relief efforts -- I'd far rather see people receiving compassion from the Church, receiving Living Water with bottles of water, than from Government's misguided largesse.

Your prayers would be appreciated as I continue to battle this apathy. And, of course, prayers to those who suffer -- in the U.S. and around the world.


CrazyJo said...

Thanks for the link for donations to the Crisis Pregnancy centers. I wouldn't mind helping them out. I've been so hesitant to give to a mainstream charity, since it seems like the distribution of our giving is being so mishandled.

Billy D said...

Good post ma'am. I found them the other day via WND. I'm only doing my giving through organizations like these, Christian affilliated groups, as they seem to be the only ones I can trust to do what they say they will with the money.
Even the red cross won't promise my money will go to the folks in need down there.

Rebecca said...

Cases like political oppression, economic oppression, and, most of all, the depravity of abortion are the ones that tie my soul into knots -- not a bunch of people who will, essentially, after a modicum of discomfort, be as before -- or maybe even, refined by hardship, better off than before.

Christian compassion requires us to bear one another's burdens. However, that is so hard to do when we cannot put ourselves in the place of our brothers and sisters. In American, so many of us have become so comfortable that we simply cannot inmagine anything else. We are so used to the quick fix and the "happy ending" of TV programs, that we downplay human tragedy and suffering.

Thus, when we watch the TV news of the horrors that our brothers and sisters have faced on the Gulf Coast, we think, "Oh, it's not a big deal...soon their lives will go back to normal...the government will take care of them and maybe they will be better off than before!"

We can say that because we've never lost everything we own. We've never been separated from loved ones, with no idea of whether they are alive or dead. We've never had our six year old son and infant somehow, without us, manage to lead toddlers and tiny kids to safety. We've never seen the person we love most in the world swept away by flood waters, while we were helpless to save our best friend, our lover, the light of our life.

We've never spent days upon days risking our lives and health to rescue people trapped by floodwaters, while we had only a small boat and a board for an oar. We've never dodged the criminal element of our city while trying to save our neighbors.

We've never huddled all alone in the attic of our home, praying the flood waters would recede, praying we would not go into a diabetic coma.

We've never given birth in the Superdome and prayed that, although we had nothing to eat or drink, we would somehow be able to make milk for our newborn.

So it's easy to say, "Oh, these people only suffered a modicum of discomfort", while we sit in our warm, dry, comfortable homes with our nice computers, knowing full well where each member of our family is, knowing where we will spend the night, knowing we have a steady income, knowing we will be safe in our own beds and rise to be able to prepare breakfast in our own homes.

God save us from judgment. Some day we may be the ones who are dependant on the kindness of strangers. Will they save us from the floodwaters? Will they provide our next meal? Or will they be as apathetic and judgemental as we are now?

Justine said...

Rebecca --
Thank you for taking the time to post such a thoughtful response. Of course, your points hit home.

I'm not comfortable with this apathy, and when I try to get outside myself and take your view, my sympathy is certainly aroused. I also have not watched coverage on TV -- have only gotten the news from the newspaper and what I've seen on the Internet. People probably come off more whiny and annoying in their printed words (my post in point) than when you see them saying them alive with passion on TV.

It is difficult to imagine being in the situations of many of these poor folks down in LA. I do think that the vast majority of them will be physically fine and taken care of -- whether by churches or government. I know that lives have been shattered, but the human soul is, at its best, resilient. Maybe "modicum" was too flippant, but it will get better. The greatest enemy in disaster is despair -- those who keep looking up will survive.

You are absolutely correct that Christians must bear one another's burdens. There's no getting around the fact that Jesus said that all of the laws and the prophets rest upon loving the Lord our God and our neighbors as ourselves. It's finding our neighbors at such a distance that can present difficulty. For instance, neighbors on my block, in my town, or in my state, are much easier to connect with -- their suffering hits, well, close to home -- literally. Should an earthquake level Seattle and my home somehow survive, I am certain that I would spring into action, and not be lost in apathy.

I guess that none of us really knows when we go to bed that our loved ones are safe and that we will make it through the night to have safe, happy breakfast time. We certainly hope that we will. Life is a shadowed view of reality at best, nothing certain for us on this side but the love of God and the mercy of His salvation. I do not know when I live each moment the hour of my death or trial -- will I be murdered in my home? be hit by a car crossing the street? lose my home and possessions to a fire? -- and I know that there could be a time in my immediate future where I will need a helping hand -- scratch that -- I need a helping hand every day. And, that is why I'm going to help financially as I am able and break out of apathy. It is a sin and a shame. I'm praying to get better -- praise the Lord, He's not done with me yet!

Arielle said...

Some of those people truly suffered, most of them only suffered the 'modicum of discomfort' that Justine referred to.

Losing belongings is not something I am going to waste pity on. None of it goes with us when we die. Yes, I do say that from the comfort of a warm, dry house, but honestly, there are times when I have secretly wanted to lose the majority of my possessions, so that they would no longer tie me down.

None-the-less, I do pray that YHWH will teach me how to have compassion and to love those in need as He would love them, not as the world professes to love them.

Rebecca said...

Arielle, to be honest, I'm surprised that you think that homelessness and massive evacuation, on a scale never before seen in this country, means that most of the people only suffered a modicum of discomfort. (Thank you, Justine, for admitting that you were flippant.) Perhaps, Arielle, you are of much sterner and stronger stuff than I am.

Yes, I agree that we will not be able to take our possessions with us, and that we should not cling to them too closely. However, for many people, it is human nature to become attached to special keepsakes such as the family Bible carefully handed down for generations, the wedding pictures of our beloved parents, the locks of hair and baby pictures from our precious little ones now grown, etc.

I realize that not all people treasure those sorts of irreplaceable mementoes. I also realize that too much stuff can be a burden. Since you have wanted to lose many of your possessions, may I suggest that you give away those that would be of use to someone else? And, if you have keepsakes that mean little to you and less to others, that you simply discard them?

I've thought of this whole issue over the past few days and I have a suggestion for anyone who still thinks that being an evacuee and having one's home destroyed is merely a "modicum of discomfort":

Sell your computers and your vehicles. All of them. Donate this money to a relief effort that you can support with a good conscience. But don't just send the money. Go. Go and serve for at least two weeks. Stay in the shelters along with the evacuees, eating the same food and sleeping on the same cots, with the same blankets, that they have. Serve these people. Help them find lost loved ones. Help them try to piece together their lives when they don't even have any identification to prove who they are. Pray with them and for them. Help them sift through the sodden messes and rubble of what was once their homes. Help them clean. Sweep streets and pick up trash. Do the most menial of tasks that will be of service to those who have experienced what you never have.

On Sundays, worship in Mississippi with believers who have cleared away the rubble of what was once their churches and who now meet on bare ground or a cement slab. Weep with those who weep, just as the Bible commands.

Work tirelessly and cheerfully in loving service for at least two weeks on behalf of those for whom you have no pity.

Then you can go back home. If those whose lives have been so disrupted by Hurricane Katrine have suffered only a modicum of discomfort, giving up your computers, your vehicles, and two weeks of your time won't even register a blip on the radar of discomfort.

Rebecca said...

From the NOLA weblog at

Professor reflects on Superdome experience

I am a visiting assistant professor at Tulane. Because I did not have a car, and through a degree of fecklessness and independence, I became one of the few professionals – perhaps the only professor – to live through the Superdome. I want to bear witness to two truths that the media is neglecting.

First, amid the stress and squalor of the Superdome, I was overwhelmed by countless acts of human kindness and decency among families and strangers. Mostly poor people of all races and degrees of education pulled together to survive the just adequate food, iffy security, and almost total lack of information.

Second, people will need time to recover emotionally and psychologically as well as practically. I myself am financially secure, healthy, and reunited with my husband without overt trauma. Nevertheless, my friends hurry to remind me that I may take weeks to recover my energy and direction. What about those who lost homes, family members, and all that is precious to them? Anyone who assumes that mere subsistence support will get evacuees and their children back on back on their feet, happy and grateful, is profoundly clueless.

Kris Lindbeck
Visiting Assistant Professor Tulane University

Only the most hardhearted could have followed the many, many stories and pleas for help posted on the NOLA blog and not been moved deeply. It became almost excruciating for me to follow the posts in the early days.

Read the archives, going back to the hurricane. See if God does not stir you to compassion. And, if that doesn't work, I am serious about my recommendation to sell your computers and vehicles and spend two weeks in service to the hurricane victims.

Serena said...

I think Justine hit it on the head when she said "It's finding our neighbors at such a distance that can present difficulty. For instance, neighbors on my block, in my town, or in my state, are much easier to connect with -- their suffering hits, well, close to home -- literally." You have personally been there in N.O. On your site you give stories of the people you met and how they touched your life. Therefore, you have an emotional and memory tie with the people there. I'm sure that is part of why you took such a great interest and devoted so much blog space to the disaster. You also have admitted that you cannot be there to help the people, but that you can help to raise money to help them. Then you tell someone who is the mother of a toddler less than a year and a half old, a nursing mother at that, that she should sell her computers and cars (she does not have plural of either) and then go live with and help the people. That same young woman lived with no car for a long time and used public transportation. Her husband bicycled to work 5 miles one way for many, many months. Then G-d provided a car for them to use. They believe Arielle should stay at home and be a mother to her son instead of opting for what so many Americans choose - a working mom and daycare. They are a struggling young family. She also recently lost all her writings and 6 months of pictures of her son in a computer glitch that will never be recovered, so knows what it is like to lose things that mean something to her. Just because she does not have the passion about the disaster that you have is not a reason to judge her, either. The same goes for Justine, who was brutally honest in her reflections and in her seeking for Father's response in all of this. I appreciate their honesty in sharing their struggles.

In our "global" age we can be overcome by all the horrible trials that others endure and question "who is my neighbor?" Even 100 years ago, it would have taken much longer to have even known about the disaster. I think we have to each have our direction for who our "neighbor" is and then do as we are directed. We can waste a lot of emotional energy on the suffering in this world when we are bombarded by it through all means of media.

There are many things I am passionate about, too. One of those would be the "sex-slave" trade of young children. Another would be the suffering of G-d's persecuted children all over this planet - a persecution that we have never experienced here. Another is the homeless, displaced people of Gaza. They are people that worked hard to turn the desert into a place of beauty and productivity, to build their dream homes, to live with danger doing what they believed they were called to do. They were torn from their land, their lovely homes and places of business razed, and left homeless, too, with the daunting task of starting over before them. A good portion of them are still homeless to this day. And it was all done in the name of an ethereal peace. A peace that will never be. Their being displaced has enabled their enemy to more effectively carry on their agenda of destroying them. Now that is something I get passionate about. I have walked the soil of that country. I have met the people of that country. I felt like it was my home when I arrived there and wept to leave. If I could have, I would have gone there and stood with those people who are pawns in the global game. I wept as they were being torn from their homes. These people are the pioneers of that land. They are overcomers. A good portion of the world could care less and think that they just got what they deserved for living in a dangerous place. I noticed that you have not mentioned them on your blog. Now what should be my reaction?

There are some who will seem heartless about this disaster that has befallen our nation and, especially, the people of the Gulf Coast and N.O. They are being called to deliver a difficult message. I'm sure that Jeremiah (though he wept) and Isaiah and Ezekiel and the other prophets were considered heartless as they warned the people of judgment, even as those people were suffering the effects of that judgment in many cases. In times past in our nation, when a disaster hit, people were called to repentance for their sin. In this one, you had better not mention it, for then you are heartless and cruel and have no feeling for what these people are going through.

I know I have wept for the suffering that these people are going through as I have for the displaced of Gaza. I also see G-d's hand of judgment coming on our nation. It is time to repent. We are lukewarm. You even had a post on the condition of the church on your blog lamenting the "fads" of modern christianity.

There is a generation that will go through some unbelievably hard times (at least in American eyes - for there are some on this earth that are already doing so) just before Messiah returns. It is looking more and more like we are that generation. That is even more reason for us to repent.

Actually, we don't have to have any "feelings" for any of these people who are suffering. What is important is the action. That can be as profound as prayer or as simple as donating money or time to help. I hope that the people involved in this aren't just being given a "band-aid" of aid without the opportunity of knowing the only One who can make the difference in their lives.

Personally, I know that many are suffering, but the pride shown in all this and the dependance on man's abilities and "money" are an affront to G-d. I pray for the people there, that they will receive this awful thing they are going through with thanksgiving, instead of shaking their fists in His face. I'm hoping to hear the miracle stories of those who are Redeemed that came through this and found Him to be their Deliverer.

There are many lessons to learn through this disaster. Those that will learn them are the ones who are doing the soul-searching because they don't think they are "feeling" as they should in all of it. They are seeking for G-d's heart in it. I'm sure they will find it.

Love and shalom,

Arielle said...


As my Mom pointed out, I am a nursing mother of a 18 month old. My husband is between jobs right now and it certainly is not financially feasible for me to go anywhere right now. Quite frankly, it would be foolish of me to go live in the shelters even if I had the time and the money to do so. With the problems they've already had with rapings and beatings, a young woman should not voluntarily put herself into that situation.

The evacuees have food, shelter and clothing. That is more than what many people in the world have right now. It says something about Americans that we feel that anything less than being in our own homes surrounded by our own possessions is suffering. The evacuees are not living in catacombs. They are not being tortured and killed. They are not being hunted down like animals. So yes, I stand by what I said about it only being a modicum of discomfort.

I admit, I am still attached to many of my belongings. I would have a hard time giving up our computer, or our car, or my family photos. But honestly, discomfort and suffering are not the same thing. If losing my possessions causes me to suffer, than I'm probably better off without them. After all, we're to lay up treasures in Heaven, not on Earth.

Compassion is an area that I, like Justine, know that I am lacking in. I have asked YHWH to teach me how to be compassionate and in time I am certain that He will. In the meantime, keep in mind that He did not create us all to be the same and that we have different strengths and weaknesses. Just because someone does not share your strength does not make them a bad person. We need each other to balance each other out. After all, one can be too dispassionate or too compassionate.

Rebecca said...

A few responses:

I noticed that you have not mentioned them [those displaced from Gaza] on your blog. Now what should be my reaction?

It has never struck me to react to what people don't write about on their blogs. There is so, so much that I don't write about. There are numerous topics I've never addressed. There are issues very close to my heart that I have chosen, for personal reasons, not to include in my blog at this point. Perhaps next you will question me as to why I posted about my pantry but not about my laundry room? Why I've written about some of my relatives and not others?

As my Mom pointed out, I am a nursing mother of a 18 month old. My husband is between jobs right now and it certainly is not financially feasible for me to go anywhere right now. Quite frankly, it would be foolish of me to go live in the shelters even if I had the time and the money to do so. With the problems they've already had with rapings and beatings, a young woman should not voluntarily put herself into that situation.

The evacuees have food, shelter and clothing. That is more than what many people in the world have right now. It says something about Americans that we feel that anything less than being in our own homes surrounded by our own possessions is suffering. The evacuees are not living in catacombs. They are not being tortured and killed. They are not being hunted down like animals. So yes, I stand by what I said about it only being a modicum of discomfort.

Arielle, I guess I thought you were made of sterner stuff. I thought you wouldn't be afraid of experiencing a "modicum of discomfort" first hand.

Don't you see how you contradict yourself in the above two paragraphs? You are afraid to go to a shelter with a nursing toddler because it is unsafe for a young woman, yet all the young women with toddlers who are there are, according to you, experiencing only a "modicum of discomfort". Or do you fear discomfort that much?

Frankly, I don't think nursing mothers should live in such conditions. Your unwillingness to do so makes sense to me; what doesn't is that you do not seem to recognize that what is an unacceptably dangerous situation for you is even more fraught for those who have no choice.

You are young. I pray that the passage of the years will bring more compassion. I'm not talking about sentimental feelings borne of having visited a place and met people. I'm talking about the Biblical response of weeping with those who weep, of being able to empathize with others, rather than trivializing their suffering.

Imagine, if you can, being in a position of feeling forced to give your baby to strangers in order to ensure his/her safety. Imagine not knowing where your precious child ended up. Imagine searching desperately, with little or no resources since you've lost everything and have no money. Imagine begging strangers and relief workers to search their databases and allow you to search through hundreds upon hundreds pictures. Imagine doing this for three weeks.

Then imagine that times thousands. 2000 children, as of this morning's news reports from the Red Cross, were still separated from their parents as a result of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

As a mother who deeply loves her children, I find that heartwrenching. I found myself in a similar state of prayerful grief over stories of the tsunami. How could I not be moved to compassion for those mothers and children? And I'd never even set foot in that part of the world, nor did I know anyone there...nor did I pretend that what they were experiencing was only a "modicum of discomfort".

I have seen suffering of various types, close up and personal. I've experienced little tastes of my own. It is easy, when you are young and self-absorbed, to think in hyper-dramatic extremes, as if anything besides catacombs and torture and being hunted like an animal is not worth shedding a tear over. Perhaps, in years to come, your perspective may change.

Arielle said...


My duty to my husband and my child supersedes any other duty, especially that of helping people in a place outside of my area and sphere of influence. Why, just because other people are in a potentially dangerous situation, should I place myself and my child in that same danger? It would serve nothing.

Tell me, did you feel compassion for the Jews in Gaza?

Did you feel compassion for the 800,000 black Muslims and Christians that lost their life in Rwanda?

Did you feel compassion for the people in Japan that lost their possessions or even their lives in the recent earthquakes?

Did you feel sorry for the victims of London's terrorist attacks?

Did you feel sorry for the tens of thousands of Kurds that lost their lives under Saddam's regime?

Did you feel sorry for the people in Haiti and Cuba that lost their homes and families in last year's hurricane?

Here's another question... how many of the above people did you send money to? How many did you sell your belongings for, or donate items to? How many did you go out of your way to spend time with? How many did you even pray for?

How many do you still feel sorry for, or even think about about on a regular basis?

There is too much suffering in the world for anyone short of YHWH to empathize with, too many people hungry and homeless and dying for anyone short of YHWH to be able to help them all.

Until you can live a life of service to everyone whose suffering you read or hear about, until you can feel compassion for every single person that suffers, you have no business condemning those that can't.

And unless you are willing to live by example, you have no business telling others what they should do.